The Lessons of Santorum

It was clear last week that Santorum was surging. The only question was whether he could overtake Paul or Romney.

He bettered Paul. He tied Romney, and has now established himself as the conservative alternative to the moderate from Massachusetts.

For all candidates running for public office, there are lessons in Santorum’s rise and things to learn from what seemed an impossible hurdle three weeks ago.

1. Patience is a Virtue. Santorum was patient. He never lost his cool. There were no temper tantrums about the dearth of coverage he was afforded. He maintained his quiet confidence and quietly did what others did not want to do—he put boots on the ground and worked his plan, content to plod in the shadows of the coverage afforded others. He peaked at the right time, too late for the SuperPACS to savage him. He “peaked” when it mattered. It does no good to lead a race early if it means having no money to fund a race in the final stages.

2. When the other candidates in a multi-candidate field are slinging dirt, stay out of it. Santorum did. In a multi-candidate field, i.e. when A hits B, and B hit back, both candidates suffer. That usually benefits candidate C. As Gingrich and Perry took their lumps, and saw their conservative credentials undermined, Santorum stayed positive. His rise had a lot to do with the fact that he had the highest positives of any of the social conservatives going into the last three weeks.

3. Know your market and stick to the script. Santorum’s base is not Romney’s or Paul’s for that matter. But anybody who watched the polls could see that 60% of the voters were not with Romney or Paul. Santorum stuck to his script, and doggedly pursued the only portion of the market that would carry him to a strong finish. He also appealed to those Catholic blue collar workers who work with their hands. Some have forgotten that Republicans need them to win a national election.

4. Retail still matters. Especially in the early contests. Especially in places like Iowa, where people are used to seeing, and meeting, and talking with would-be Presidents. Santorum had troops and “investors” that he “touched” because he devoted time to doing it. It made a difference.

What now? Politics is unpredictable. Jimmy Carter parlayed a strong finish in Iowa to a chair in the Oval Office, as did Barack Obama. Other winners of Iowa, Pat Robertson and Mike Huckabee, got their 15 minutes of fame and their footnote in the history books, but little else.

Every race has its peculiar dynamics. This one is not over. And thanks to the dogged determination of Rich Santorum, it just got more interesting.

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Political consultant Jay Townsend works with smart, passionate candidates who want to run for office, win elections and make a difference. He has successfully helped candidates learn how to run for the U.S. Senate, how to run for Congress, how to run for Mayor and develop a winning campaign marketing strategy.

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